16th Annual Artist Survey: Ezra Furman

Furman on The Muppets, Climate Change, Childhood Birthday Parties and Vacations, and His First Job

Mar 07, 2019 Issue #65 - Mitski and boygenius
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Ezra Furman.

Furman's last album, Transangelic Exodus, came out in February 2018 via Bella Union. In a press release announcing the album Furman said Transangelic Exodus is "not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir. A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga."

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

1. IDLES: Joy As An Act of Resistance
2. Dirty Projectors: Lamp Lit Prose
3. Pancho Morris: Great Again
4. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
5. Tierra Whack: Whack World
6. Mattiel: Mattiel
7. Flasher: Constant Image
8. Art Brut: Wham! Bang! Pow! Let's Rock Out!
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Sparkle Hard
10. Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

The low point was breaking down in exhausted tears in Texas at the end of a too-long tour and having to cancel a show 10 minutes before it started because I could not stop crying. The highlight was putting out our record Transangelic Exodus, which I am so proud of.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020?

I'm not much of a political analyst. I'm glad more people voted than usual. I still have hope that the news will start to be better, that we will start taking the necessary enormous steps to fighting climate change and giving our species a better chance at survival. This is the main thing I'm thinking about with regard to politics, just preventing human suffering. I don't have a lot of team spirit, except when it helps prevent suffering.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018? 

Backlash is so hard. It can make you feel like it wasn't worth it to start the movement. But it was. Backlash shows that progress is being made, and the people who oppose it are feeling the heat. What happened to Fordbeing disbelieved and attacked and harassed for telling her storyis terrible, but she knew it would happen that way. Before the movement, the guy would not have had to answer for anything. We are moving in a good direction on this matter.

A year after the #MeToo movement, do you feel things gotten better or worse in terms of issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in the music industry?

Better, but not better enough. 

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.)

Never heard of it.

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Kermit. A people-pleaser who, at the end of the day, can't help but be his embarrassing self.

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

Yes. I'm not really interested in him anymore. But really I stopped listening when he said slavery was a choice.

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

The first order of business is not financially struggling people (like most musicians) trying to offset our carbon footprint. That's important but it's not the first order of business. The most important thing is legislation that disincentives carbon emissions. We have to rally and advocate and vote for taxes and regulations on corporations. The rich are killing the poor worldwide. I have slowly realized that that is the best way to say it. The rich are killing the poor, of today and tomorrow. I think governments have the power to stop them from doing this and we the people have the power to influence government. The human future depends on it. The anti-corruption, solidarity-with-the-poor messages of the biblical prophets have turned out, as many religious people suspected, to be bound up with the very survival of humanity. I could talk a lot, too much, about this. In short: we have to stop the rich from killing the poor for money.

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses.

No, I'm not ready. But then, it's Sunday today and I'm not even ready for Tuesday.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood?

We had a magician at my fifth birthday party. He did this thing where he appeared to cut off his hand and a fake slightly bloody hand fell out of his sleeve. This one kid freaked out so bad and couldn't stop crying. It might have been the first time I felt superior to someone.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite?

When I was maybe seven or eight my parents and my three siblings and I drove to the badlands of South Dakota. We saw bison, climbed on rocks, played cards in a cabin. It was fantastic.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

Probably the time I was invited to perform at this bizarre daytime house party in Los Angeles for David Lynch's transcendental meditation foundation. It was so Lynchian. Donovan's daughter was there and interviewed me on camera and asked how I felt about transcendental meditation. I told her I knew nothing about it but it sounded nice. They gave us all onesies, for some reason. We didn't get paid. So weird.

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place?

I don't like this question's implicit assumption that I will ever die.

Tell us about your first job. Also, what's been your most disastrous job interview or business meeting?

My first job was as a dishwasher at the dining hall at Tufts University where I went to college. It was this kind of shadow world of working class adults among the mostly rich kids at the dining hall. I noticed fast that we, the employees, were completely invisible to most of the students, especially the older employees and the black employees. I've always remembered that. I wrote an angsty song about it called "The Dishwasher" which went on my second record.

[Note: A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 65, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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